American Express has launched a new product known as the American Express Choice Card, which will be the only member of the Membership Rewards card family that comes with no annual fee.
You can click here for the card’s information page on Prince of Travel, and in this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about the new Amex Choice Card and how it might fit into the American Express strategy.
10,000 MR Select Points + 1x Earning Rate
The American Express Choice Card is a pretty basic offering in every way, which is to be expected for a no-annual-fee product.
(Technically, this isn’t even a new product, but rather a previously discontinued card that has now been reintroduced to new applicants, as you can tell from this legacy page on the American Express website.)
First off, the Choice Card is a credit card rather than a charge card, meaning that cardholders will be subject to a preset credit limit and will have the ability to make minimum payments on their monthly balances (although you should of course always pay off your bill in full).
Next, even though the term “Membership Rewards points” is used in the card’s marketing, it’s important to note that the Choice Card will earn MR Select points (the same points currency earned on the Cobalt Card and the Business Edge Card), rather than regular MR points (which are earned on the Gold Rewards Card, the Business Gold Card, the Platinum Card, and the Business Platinum Card).
The key difference between MR points and MR Select points? The latter cannot be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs, and instead its transfer partners are limited to hotel loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy (at a 1:1.2 ratio) and Hilton Honors (at a 1:1 ratio).
With the above in mind, let’s talk about the Choice Card’s welcome bonus and earning rate, both of which are pretty straightforward.
You’d earn 10,000 MR Select points upon spending $1,000 in the first three months. Then, on every purchase you make, you’d earn 1 MR Select point per dollar spent.
There’s no annual fee for either the primary cardholder or any supplementary cardholders. Furthermore, as a no-fee product, the card is also entirely devoid of any insurance benefits, so there’s not much to say there.
If you’re purely going for a basic no-fee Amex card for your day-to-day spending, then it’s kind of a toss-up between the Amex Choice Card and the Amex SimplyCash Card. Indeed, the Choice Card seems like it’s basically a clone of the SimplyCash within the Membership Rewards ecosystem.
On the SimplyCash side, you’d earn 1.25% cash back on an ongoing basis, and the card also offers a small handful of insurance benefits.
Meanwhile, in theory, the Choice Card’s 1x MR Select points can outweigh the 1.25% return if you put some effort into redeeming the MR Select points; moreover, its points can be redeemed whenever you want, unlike the SimplyCash where the cash back gets delivered to you once per year.
What Are MR Select Points?
The MR Select points you earn can be redeemed in the following ways:
- Redeemed directly against statement purchases at a ratio of 1,000 points = $7, a value of 0.7 cents per point (0.7cpp)
- Redeemed through Amazon.ca’s Shop with Points feature at a ratio of 1,000 points = $7 (if you link your Amex and Amazon.ca accounts)
- Redeemed directly against travel purchases at a ratio of 1,000 points = $10, a value of 1cpp
- Redeemed via the Amex Fixed Points Travel reward chart for a maximum value of 2cpp
- Transferred to Marriott Bonvoy (at a 1:1.2 ratio) and Hilton Honors (at a 1:1 ratio)
The first two are very much redemptions of convenience, and the value here is poor. Meanwhile, unlocking 1cpp by redeeming directly against travel purchases is fine as a last resort (for example, if you’re looking to make a travel purchase that can’t be booked with points the traditional way), but still wouldn’t be my top choice.
Generally speaking, the Amex Fixed Points Travel and Marriott Bonvoy redemption pathways will provide you with higher value than redeeming directly at 1cpp, so you’ll want to think about whether you’d prefer to use your points for flights or hotels to decide between the two. (Note that Amex Fixed Points Travel only works for round-trip flights departing from Canada.)
Over on the Marriott Bonvoy side, the welcome bonus of 10,000 MR Select points would convert into 12,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, which would be enough for at least one night at a Category 1 hotel.
When transferring MR Select points to Marriott Bonvoy, you’ll want to make sure that you’re redeeming the Bonvoy points for at least 0.83cpp in value against the cash price of the hotel; otherwise, you would’ve been better off simply paying cash and redeeming at 1cpp directly on your Choice Card, Cobalt Card, or Business Edge Card.
Somewhere to Park Your MR Select Points
Even though the Choice Card may not be the most exciting product on its own, it still addresses the gap that there previously hadn’t been a no-fee product in the Membership Rewards family.
That was a point of frustration for those who might’ve held other MR products, but who no longer saw value in their card and wanted to cancel, and yet didn’t want to transfer out their points just yet.
The Choice Card provides an option for “parking” your MR Select points that you might’ve earned from the Cobalt Card or the Business Edge Card by combining the MR Select accounts if you no longer wished to keep one of those products going forward. You’d still retain all of the options associated with your MR Select points indefinitely, since they’d be attached to your no-fee Choice Card instead.
Note that even though it’s technically possible to combine regular MR points with MR Select points, it’s almost never a good idea to do so. That’s because everything will become MR Select points in the end, and you’d lose the valuable ability you once had to transfer those regular MR points to airline frequent flyer programs.
In theory, another possibility would be to downgrade your Cobalt Card to a Choice Card in order to keep alive the credit history, as both are personal credit cards in the MR Select family.
I’ve heard a few anecdotes in the past of Cobalt cardholders being offered this downgrade option upon cancelling their cards – even though the Choice Card was not open to new applicants at the time. However, compared to opening a new Choice Card and merging the points, this strategy wouldn’t yield the 10,000 MR Select points as a welcome bonus.
All of these considerations also need to be weighed against the fact that 2020 has witnessed multiple reports of American Express unilaterally shutting down cardholders’ accounts for using the cards in “unintended purposes”, with “opening and closing multiple accounts in a short period of time” being given as an example of such.
In that light, until the situation changes, the Choice Card may not seem worthwhile as a new addition to your wallet purely for the above relatively niche purposes. Certainly, if you’re opening a new Amex card with the goal of maximizing your points, your first choice should be one of the juicier offers like the Cobalt, the Business Platinum Card, or the Aeroplan Reserve instead.
The American Express Choice Card is now once again available to new applicants as a no-annual-fee product within the Membership Rewards family.
The card will earn MR Select points rather than regular MR points, giving you a set of two optimal redemptions: booking flights via Amex Fixed Points Travel or converting to Marriott Bonvoy.
With a welcome bonus of 10,000 MR Select points and a unified 1x earning rate, the Choice Card isn’t too much to get excited about, but it’s still a decent chunk of value to unlock in exchange for a no-fee card that will support your credit history going forward.
If you prefer to avoid paying annual fees as you play the credit card game, then this might be the right choice for making your entry into the MR Select ecosystem.
One factor that could further move the needle on the value proposition is whether or not the Choice Card offers a refer-a-friend bonus or an elevated welcome bonus by applying through one. I’ll update this article if we learn more on that front.